On March 19, 1865, at Bentonville, a Confederate army led by Gen. Joseph Johnston attacked the left wing of Union Gen. William Sherman’s army. General Robert E. Lee directed the Confederates to make a stand in North Carolina to prevent Sherman from joining General Ulysses S. Grant in front of Lee’s army at Petersburg, Virginia.
Union Gen. Henry Slocum, initially not realizing that he faced an entire army, pushed forward, but was driven back throughout the afternoon. Confederates led by Gen. D. H. Hill were able to flank Slocum’s troops, pouring devastating fire on them. Johnston continued his assaults throughout the evening but pulled back after realizing that the right wing of Sherman’s army, which was marching from Fayetteville toward Goldsboro, would arrive soon.
Sherman’s army of 60,000 men was divided into two wings: half were in the left wing marching through Averasboro and Bentonville and half were in the right wing marching on a parallel route to the southeast. Sherman’s objective was Goldsboro, where 40,000 additional troops and supplies would reinforce his army.
After initial success on March 19, the Confederates were unable to subdue the Union army, and early on March 22 they withdrew. The Union Army did not pursue them. The action was the largest during the Civil War in North Carolina.
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